Rowing sisters get the job done by winning first place

Lily and Tabitha Pahl represent Renton Rowing Center.

From mother to daughters, rowing flows through this family’s veins.

On day two of the 2024 U.S. Rowing Northwest Youth Championships, sisters Lily and Tabitha Pahl, representing Renton Rowing Center, took home the first place win in women’s doubles rowing on Vancouver Lake in Vancouver, Washington.

Lily, 18, is a senior at Liberty High School and has rowed since she was in seventh grade. Meanwhile, her younger sister, 16-year-old Tabitha, is a sophomore and only began rowing five months ago.

To make the race, Lily said she had to make the tough decision to miss prom. Despite the hesitancy, Lily said missing prom was a no-brainer, and it was worth it because she knew she had to go to the last rowing meet of her high school career.

“I’ve always really wanted to go to prom, and so I was really sad when I found out regionals was that same weekend, but there wasn’t really an option of not going to regionals,” Lily said. “It was like I worked really hard to get here and go to regionals and I’m in the varsity squad, I’m in a race with my sister. I can’t not go. That’s just not fair to my teammates or me. I worked too hard to get there. It’s sad that I missed prom, but I don’t regret it.”

The pair won the Women’s Youth FA race in eight minutes and 23 seconds, beating out the second-place winner, Burton Beach Rowing Club, by 4.09 seconds. Despite the pair coming in second place in the trial runs, Lily said they were still nervous coming into the race. Lily said she was unsure if they would win, but she told herself that she didn’t miss prom to not give it her all.

“I was a lot more scared for the final, when we’re actually racing neck to neck and next to the other boats because it’s different mentally when you’re rowing next to other boats, and you can see them, it’s a lot more motivating to go,” Lily said. “I was worried the other teams were going to show up and they were going to be faster than us, but all my teammates were really encouraging, and they said, ‘You got this, you guys are going to win.’ I didn’t really believe them.”

Despite their doubts and nervousness, Lily and Tabitha got the job done. They said when they were actually rowing, all of those thoughts were nowhere to be found, with their minds focused solely on rowing. Lily said her mind goes blank when she’s racing, and she knew they were slightly ahead, but she knew she could still lose, so she just kept giving it her all.

Tabitha said during the race, she couldn’t really tell by how much they were winning, but she thought they were slightly ahead and could lose the lead at any moment. But, looking back at the race footage, Tabitha said they actually had a bigger advantage than she thought.

“I think that I wasn’t necessarily surprised that we won like Lily had said, but it definitely didn’t feel like we had won until we had crossed the finish line,” Tabitha said. “Usually it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re winning, we’re gonna win.’ It wasn’t until the very last stroke that we knew we won.”

Being partnered up as sisters has helped them improve because they could be brutally honest with each other. Because they live together, they have a lot of time to talk about their skills outside of practice, which isn’t a luxury most rowing partners get, Lily said. Although she is stronger and taller, Tabitha said Lily has better technique, but strength and height just are what they are, so they make things work and get the job done.

Their sisterly honesty also helped Tabitha develop her rowing skills very quickly. Tabitha only began rowing about five months ago after she wanted to move to a different sport from soccer. Lily said because Tabitha is taller and stronger than her, it helped a lot for her to learn quickly.

“It’s become a big part of my life really fast, and I like going to practice every day, and it has become probably my favorite part of the day,” Tabitha said.

Lily said now she’s going to continue rowing at the University of Edinburgh, and Tabitha said she’s going to continue rowing in high school and she hopes to row in college, following in her sister’s footsteps.

Lily and Tabitha crossing the finish line to win first place. Photo courtesy of Overnight

Lily and Tabitha crossing the finish line to win first place. Photo courtesy of Overnight

Lily and Tabitha carrying a lead in first place. Photo courtesy of Overnight

Lily and Tabitha carrying a lead in first place. Photo courtesy of Overnight